Is Religious Belief Reasonable?
October 19, 2013 — 23:52

Author: Robert Gressis  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 34

Over at Philosophy, et cetera, Richard Yetter-Chappell claims that religious belief is not reasonable. Here is Yetter-Chappell’s rationale behind his reasoning:
1. At most, the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments support minimal deism. (I’m not sure what minimal deism is; is it simply the claim that something outside of the universe is causally responsible for either the universe’s existence or for its order? Or is it the stronger claim that some kind of powerful, intelligent agent is causally responsible for either the universe’s existence or its order?)
2. The ontological argument is sophistic, and the modal ontological argument is question-begging.
3. The fact that lots of philosophers of religion think that religious belief is reasonable provides no evidence for thinking that it’s reasonable, because the best explanation for why they’re philosophers of religion in the first place is that they’re antecedently convinced of the claims of theism. Consequently, the best explanation of the fact that they find those arguments compelling is that they already believed them for non-evidential reasons.
4. There are very good reasons to disbelieve in theism, namely the arguments from evil and divine hiddenness. (I take it that Yetter-Chappell thinks that the responses to these arguments don’t discredit these arguments.)
5. The additional claims of historical religions are either not “the kind of thing someone could end up believing as the result of a careful and unbiased assessment of the evidence” (presumably, things like the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement, among others) or are “patently immoral” (like the doctrine of original sin, and the view that honest non-believers deserve eternal damnation).
(Yetter-Chappell doesn’t mention other arguments in the theistic arsenal, like Kant’s moral argument or the argument from miracles. I’m guessing he either doesn’t think they’re worthy of discussion or thinks they convince too few people to mention, or both.)
What is one to make of Yetter-Chappell’s post? A few things, I think:
First, I think that claims that philosophers of religion have made religious belief intellectually respectable are either overstated or false. Just based on anecdotal evidence, I get the impression that a lot of very intelligent philosophers, even ones who are personal acquaintances of Robert Adams, Marilyn Adams, Richard Swinburne, Eleonore Stump, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, or Dean Zimmerman feel the same way as Yetter-Chappell. It would be good to get some empirical information on whether this is the case.
Second, I must confess that his post unnerves me greatly. This is mainly because I get the impression that Yetter-Chappell is a very good philosopher who is intimately acquainted with much of contemporary philosophy of religion — as well-acquainted with it as many of the people who post on this blog, I’m assuming (is that fair?) — and I don’t think he has the slightest doubt about his views. By contrast, I have nagging, deep doubts about my own religious beliefs. I think this is partly because you can publish lots of secular philosophy in generalist journals while explicitly assuming the truth of naturalism, whereas you can’t publish philosophy that makes explicitly theistic assumptions in generalist journals (or can you? And if you can, under what circumstances can you do so? As a hypothetical? I don’t count those). Perhaps I’m simply neuro-atypical, but I think that would consistently add to the confidence in my convictions. (And this says nothing of the naturalistic assumptions you can make in most conversations with most philosophers.)
Third, I could be wrong, but I think you can run many of his arguments against moral realism. Let me go through them:
1*. What direct arguments are there in favor of moral realism? Michael Smith tries in The Moral Problem; how convincing is this? I gather that David Enoch, Russ Shafer-Landau, and Anita Superson try as well. How many are convinced?
2*. Kant’s deduction of the categorical imperative/Mill’s “proof” is sophistic. (There’s a “gap” in Kant’s deduction and Mill’s proof trades on an equivocation within “x is desirable” between “x is something that one can desire” and “x is something that one ought to desire”.)
3*. The fact that most normative ethicists and meta-ethicists (56.4%) are moral realists doesn’t give any evidence in favor of moral realism, because those scholars became ethicists because they were antecedently convinced of the truth of moral realism.
4*. There are very good reasons to disbelieve moral realism, such as Mackie’s argument from queerness and Harman’s point that you don’t need to invoke moral facts to explain anything about our behavior, attitudes, moral knowledge, etc. Indeed, this world is just the kind of world you would expect to see if our moral beliefs were the product of acculturation and evolutionary pressures.
5.* Most of the particular ethical beliefs that philosophers, and the public at large, have are not so much the result of careful study of evidence (few people look deeply into the evidence (sociological, psychological, economic, political scientific, etc.; nor are they the result of the application of a particular normative theory to cases), but rather because those beliefs are the ones their colleagues share, etc.
Even if one accepts the above parallels, though, I’m not sure what they show. I’m guessing you can easily accept all of 1-5 while denying 1*-5*, but I find it difficult to do so, personally. If you agree with me that there are at least some parallels between moral realism and theism, why do you think moral realism is so much more respectable than theism? (Assuming it is.)

I just know I’m right – what to do when you feel this in religious and philosophical disagreement
October 15, 2013 — 5:28

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 10

[note: this blogpost collects some scattered thoughts I hope to organize in article form sooner rather than later, for my British Academy project on religious social epistemology, see here]

There is an ongoing debate what we should do when we are confronted with disagreement with an epistemic peer; someone who is as knowledgeable and intellectually virtuous in the domain in question. Should we revise our beliefs (conciliationism), or not engage in any doxastic revision (steadfastness)? Epistemologists aim to settle this question in a principled way, hoping general principles like conciliationism and steadfastness can offer a solution not only for the toy examples that are being invoked, but also for real-world cases that we care passionately about, such as scientific, religious, political and philosophical disagreements. However, such cases have proven to be a hard nut to crack. A referee once commented on a paper I submitted on epistemic peer disagreement in science  that the notion of epistemic peer in scientific practice was useless. S/he said “It works for simple cases like two spectators who disagree on which horse finished first, but when it comes to two scientists who disagree whether a fossil is a Homo floresiensis or Homo sapiens, the notion is just utterly useless.” 


An Argument from Happiness
October 10, 2013 — 12:19

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 27

1. I am less than h happy.
2. Necessarily, God can make me happy to at least degree h.
3. Necessarily, if God creates me, it is overall better if he makes me at least h happy.
4. /:. In every world in which I exist it is obligatory that God makes me at least h happy. 2,3
5. /:. In every world in which I exist, God makes me at least h happy. 2,3, 4
6. /:. God did not create me. 1,5
7. /:. God does not exist. 6
(1) is a contingent fact. (2) is a near-trivial modal truth. (3) doesn’t need much argument, and I leave it as an exercise. Premise (4) follows from the fact that it is better if God creates me at least h happy. Premise (5) follows from the fact that God always does what he is morally required to do. The rest just falls out straightforwardly.


God’s Existence and My Suspicion: Delusions of Knowledge
July 12, 2013 — 10:02

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God Religious Belief  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 72

(I thought some Prosblogion folks may find this essay interesting, because it touches on and connects with several interesting philosophical and metaphilosophical issues, and also some interesting issues about the role of faith in the religious life. I don’t mention faith in the essay: that’s one of the “connected” issues that isn’t actually touched on. But it’s interesting to me to see how some theists can be very disturbed at the suggestion that they don’t know that God exists, while others shrug it off with some thought along the lines of “Well, that’s what faith is for.”)

I know many people who claim to know whether God exists. In each case (individually), I suspect they’re wrong about their having such knowledge. In fact, I suspect that they are all wrong. That is, I suspect that nobody that I know knows whether God exists. So I suspect that delusions of knowledge about this matter run rampant among folks I know. Not a particularly nice suspicion to harbor, I realize. But I thought I’d express and explain that suspicion here, describing my grounds for it.


The Psychology and Cultural Evolution of Religion Predicts Bias in Philosophy of Religion
March 8, 2013 — 12:08

Author: Ryan Nichols  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 22

“What is the first business of philosophy? To part with
self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn what he thinks
that he already knows.” –Epictetus,
Discourses, Book 2, Ch. 17.

[cross-posted at CERC] At HECC and CERC we study religion–its cultural evolution and transmission, its psychology, its
emotional and cognitive makeup and more. But you might think that studies about
how the plebs experience religion are fundamentally different than studies
about how sophisticated academics experience religion. In a recent paper Paul Draper and I diagnose bias not just in
religious persons but in philosophers of religion. If the guiding hypotheses of
CERC about the psycho-social purposes of religion are accurate, extensive
biases even amongst elite thinkers are what we would expect.

Before knickers get in twists, we are not arguing in this
work that religious belief is epistemically unwarranted or unjustified. We
aren’t crafting a debunking argument based on spurious causal sources of religious
belief. Matter of fact religion is a sine qua non of modern life. It would be
not only silly but wrongheaded to attempt to banish religion from the world.
Religiosity covaries with lots of positive outcomes. (You wouldn’t want to live
longer and be healthier, would you?) In the words of the Doobie Brothers,
internal and external forms of religiosity are alright with me. More than
alright. Besides, folks in and out of the phil religion biz have narrowed the
meaning of ‘religion’ leaving out intriguing options like Ietsism
and the religious implications of the Simulation
. At least those who want to “commit it then to the
flames”, a la Hume in the immortal conclusion to his Enquiry Concerning Human
, should first get straight one what they want to burn.


CFP: Faith and Reason
December 10, 2012 — 9:36

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: ,   Comments: 0

The Mountain-Pacific Region of the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) is now accepting papers for its annual conference to be held March 8-9 at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We welcome both Christians and non-Christians as presenters, commentators, and participants. Although we are particularly interested in papers on the intersection of faith and reason (e.g., religious epistemology, the concept of faith, the reasonableness of faith, or arguments for God’s existence), papers on any topic of philosophical interest will be considered.
Submissions should include a paper that is 3,000 words or less and is prepared for blind review in an accessible format (e.g., .doc, .docx, or .pdf). In addition to the paper, submissions should include a cover letter that includes your name, institutional affiliation, email address, paper title, and an abstract of 200 words or less. Submissions should be sent to Jonathan Spelman at (jonathan.spelman [at] on or before January 6, 2013. Note that there is a $500 award for the best graduate student paper!
For additional information about the conference, please contact either Jonathan Spelman at or Ashley Taylor at, or visit the conference website:

Can philosophy of religion be an acceptable form of proselytism/apologetics?
November 3, 2012 — 6:00

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 60

Let me be clear from the outset: the majority of work in analytic philosophy of religion (PoR) does not aim to proselytize, but is concerned with fairly technical topics, such as the possibility of creaturely free will in heaven, the compatibility of specific divine attributes, or the evidential problem of evil. But some portion of PoR is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that religious belief (usually, Christianity, given the demographics of academic philosophy) is reasonable. To this end, philosophers construct sophisticated arguments, for instance, to show that religious belief does not require evidence, that religious faith is also, or even primarily, a matter of practical rationality, that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of theism, etc. Plantinga and Swinburne are good examples. Such philosophy of religion can be plausibly regarded as a form of proselytism–I’m using a wider term than the usual “apologetics”, as apologetics is the more narrow notion of systematically defending a particular religious position. But I’m not entirely happy with the term proselytism either, since I also think that some of this PoR is aimed at those people who have religious faith, but who are wavering, for instance, because others tell them their faith is not rational. So I’ll settle for proselytism cum apologetics as a not entirely satisfactory term for this type of PoR. Is it acceptable for philosophers of religion to engage in proselytism/apologetics?


Sacrificing a theistic argument to the Problem of Evil
October 8, 2012 — 10:40

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , ,   Comments: 20

It’s hard to come up with reasonable priors for such theses as Naturalism and Theism and with reasonable conditional probabilities for such evidence as Evils We Can’t Theodicize on Theism. But we can sometimes come up with reasonable comparisons of the strength of evidence. And this might lead to some helpful non-numerical probabilistic reasoning.

For instance, we might have the judgment that the evidential strength of the Problem of Evil (POE) as an argument against theism is no greater than the evidential strength of the Finetuning Argument (FTA) as an argument for theism. Two thoughts in support of this: (1) the low-entropy initial state of the our universe has been estimated by Penrose to be utterly incredibly unlikely (my paraphrase of his 10^(-10^123)) and some of the other anthropic coincidences come with what are intuitively extremely narrow ranges; the theist has proposed various theodicies–they may not be convincing, but it seems reasonable to say that the probability that together they answer the POE is no less, indeed quite a bit greater, than the incredibly tiny probabilities that FTA claims; (2) just as thinking about naturalistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of FTA, thinking about theistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of POE (cf. Turner and Kraay’s work); (3) just as in the case of FTA we might worry that there is some nomic explanation of the coincidences that we haven’t found, so too in the case of POE we have sceptical theism.

This means that the theist can simply sacrifice FTA to POE: the FTA either balances POE or outbalances POE (I think the latter, because of point (1) above).

Then the theist has a nice supply of other strong and serious theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, non-FTA design arguments (e.g., Swinburne’s laws of nature argument), ontological, religious experience, moral epistemology (theism has a much better explanation than naturalism of how we can know objective moral truths), etc. The atheist has a few other arguments, too, but I think they are not very impressive (the Stone and other issues for the Chisholming of divine attributes, Grim-style worries about omniscience and infinity, worries about the interaction between the physical and nonphysical). At least once POE is completely out of the picture, even if FTA is lost, the theist can make a very strong case.

Thoughts on evolutionary debunking arguments against religious belief
September 24, 2012 — 15:59

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 15

I’ve just re-read Paul Griffiths’ and John Wilkins’ inspiring paper on evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) for religion (it is a very influential paper on cognitive science of religion and evolutionary debunking, despite its not having appeared in print yet) for a chapter of a monograph I’m writing. Using Guy Kahane’s debunking genealogical framework, they argue that natural selection is an off-track process, i.e., one that does not track truth: it produces beliefs in a manner that is insensitive to the truth those beliefs. From this, they conclude that the beliefs that are the outputs of evolved systems are unjustified.
Causal premise. S’s belief that p is explained by X
Epistemic premise. X is an off-track process
Therefore, S’s belief that p is unjustified
When we apply this argument in a generalized manner, where X stands for “natural selection”, this looks like a bad strategy for the naturalist – ultimately, it leads to self-defeat in a Plantingesque manner that most proponents of EDAs would like to avoid. G&W’s position is more subtle: they don’t want to treat truth-tracking and fitness-tracking as competing explanations (as Plantinga seems to do), instead, they argue that fitness-tracking and truth-tracking operate at different explanatory levels. In many cases, tracking truth *is* the best way of tracking fitness, especially given (1) that cognition is costly (brains consume a lot of energy), (2) your beliefs influences how you will behave, (3) your behavior influences your fitness. They propose “Milvian bridges”, which link truth-tracking and fitness-tracking, in order to salvage commonsense and scientific beliefs.


Physicist Sean Carroll on God and Modern Physics
September 12, 2012 — 15:50

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God Links  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 10

I want to draw Prosblogion readers’ attention to a very interesting paper by CalTech physicist Sean Carroll, “Does the Universe Need God?” (hat tip: ex-apologist). The article is to be published in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity. The article is a model of constructive dialog between philosophy and physics. Carroll shows engagement with the major philosophical arguments under discussion, and does not come off as condescending or dismissive. He also provides concise and helpful summaries of the relevant physics. Additionally, the article shows an admirable degree of epistemic humility, noting that there are many unsolved problems in physics and that our theory of the early universe is not polished and completed, while still arguing that we have enough information to shape our views on origins. The article is quite readable, and would certainly be helpful for students.
Let me make a few remarks on Carroll’s actual arguments and positions. Near the beginning of the article, Carroll quickly summarizes the possible responses to ‘first cause’-type cosmological arguments. It seems to me that he is on firm ground here: it is unclear whether there even is a first moment, and if there is then it is not clear that it even makes sense to ask what caused the state of the universe in that first moment, if we are looking for another cause in the series of causes. Besides (although Carroll does not make this point), classical philosophical theology does not conceive of God as one more cause in the series of causes. So the first cause argument isn’t really going anywhere. I myself think that insofar as the first cause argument is tempting, this is because it gets confused with the argument from contingency: people aren’t really asking what caused the first state of the universe, they are asking why was the state of the universe as it was, and it’s quite clear that, if there really is a first moment, then the answer to that question could not possibly be another ordinary physical cause: either it has no answer, or it has an answer of a very different sort.
Carroll next offers detailed criticism of the ‘fine-tuning’ argument. The main point Carroll makes here is that the multiverse hypotheses which physicists take seriously are not just introducing enormous numbers of universes as ad hoc posits for the purpose of getting rid of fine-tuning. One sort of multiverse, for instance, falls neatly out of inflationary cosmology, which is a well-verified physical theory. (Brian Greene’s latest book, The Hidden Reality, surveys the range of multiverse theories and the different degrees of evidence for them.) So to say that the multiverse is excessively complex and so should be rejected is to misunderstand the sort of simplicity we should be looking for. Now, Carroll runs over some distinctions between different multiverse theories here; my understanding on the basis of Greene’s book is that the multiverse theories that do the most to eliminate fine-tuning are the least well-supported and widely accepted among those on offer, and that it is true of some of these theories that their main attraction for their adherents is to get rid of fine-tuning. I’m not, however, convinced that that’s bad: apparent fine-tuning is one of the things physicists try to explain. If a particular multiverse hypothesis provides a simple explanation of a particular apparent fine-tuning, then good for it. And I agree with Carroll on what simplicity should mean here. Leibniz said that God would create the world which was simplest in principles and most varied in phenomena (see, e.g., DM 5). This is the kind of simplicity that matters here: simplicity of the fundamental principles. If they generate many and varied phenomena (e.g. an enormous variety of universes), this is no stroke against them. Again, point Carroll.
Near the end of the article, Carroll does come to discuss the argument from contingency. Unfortunately, he does not, in my view, take it as seriously as it deserves. He essentially says that, although we ought always to look for explanations with respect to things in the universe, there can be no such explanation of the universe as a whole or its most basic laws. In The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment Alexander Pruss makes the case that the PSR cannot be restricted in any non-ad hoc way without undermining the assumptions of explainability made in ordinary scientific practice. Carroll ultimately simply pronounces that “There is no reason, within anything we currently understand about the ultimate structure of reality, to think of the existence and persistence and regularity of the universe as things that require external explanation.” He doesn’t give an adequate account of exactly what restrictions he is placing on explainability, or how they are justified. He seems to be supposing that what things we take to be in need of explanation depends on our physical theory. The trouble is, our practices with respect to explanation must be at least partly a priori in character: we have to start looking for explanations before we’ve got any explanations. Furthermore, Carroll’s example, that in modern physics there is no need for Aristotle’s Prime Mover because of the Law of Inertia, neglects the fact that an appeal to the Law of Inertia is itself an explanation of why objects continue in their state of motion. It is not that we’ve discovered that these things don’t need explanation, but rather that we’ve discovered that the correct explanation is of a very different sort from what Aristotle had in mind.
The argument from contingency, however, takes God outside the realm of physics. God here provides a different kind of explanation to a different kind of problem. This, to my mind, is one of the key reasons why the argument from contingency and the ontological argument are far more credible than either the first cause argument or the fine-tuning argument. That theism is not a credible physical theory is transparently obvious. Whether it is a credible metaphysical theory is another question entirely. I also note that the standards of credibility for metaphyiscal theories are quite lax compared to those for physical theories. Might theism enjoy the same level of (objective) support as quantum field theory? Not a chance. Might it enjoy the same level of (objective) support as (say) our best theories of universals? On this latter point I would say, it can, and it does.